N.I. Community Band is on the run

Members of the North Island Community Band dress in their festive finery while preparing to play the the Eagle View School craft bazaar this month.  - Photo by J.R. Rardon
Members of the North Island Community Band dress in their festive finery while preparing to play the the Eagle View School craft bazaar this month.
— image credit: Photo by J.R. Rardon

Despite having one of its regular gigs cancelled, and another aborted when its ride failed to show up, the North Island Community Band has found the current Christmas season a boon to its public image on North Vancouver Island.

The band is a somewhat eclectic mix of mostly amateur musicians, with roughly half of its members qualified music instructors in the school system and the other half including retirees, a daycare provider, an employee of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, a newspaper editor and even B.C.’s longest-serving mayor — Port McNeill trombonist Gerry Furney.

“Hey, we’ll welcome anybody who wants to play,” said Shawn Gough of Port Hardy, the group’s leader and a teacher at Port McNeill’s Sunset Elementary School.

During most of the year, the band meets each week —alternating between Port Hardy and Port McNeill — to practice an instrumental mix of jazz, pop/rock and show tunes. Public gigs are somewhat sporadic, aside from regular dates at the North Island Concert Society’s annual dinner show, the Mount Waddington Fall Fair and Christmas-oriented concerts for the tree lighting at Thunderbird Mall and the annual Sointula Seniors dinner.

This year’s Sointula event — a December affair for which the band dusts off its collection of Christmas standards and jazz arrangements — was scaled back to a dinner-only evening, without accompanying entertainment.

But even as it was informed it would not be playing on Malcolm Island this year, the band was invited to perform at a series of new and ongoing holiday affairs in the region, including the Eagle View Elementary School PAC craft bazaar, the third annual Santa Parade and the moonlight madness shopping evening in Port Hardy last Friday.

“Wow. I don’t think we’ve played so many times in such a short period,” said Susan Beatty of Port McNeill, a trumpeter and another teacher, at Port McNeill’s North Island Secondary School.

Yet another holiday gig remains, with the group scheduled to play at the Sunset school Christmas pageant next Monday evening.

And why not? Four members of the group are teachers or administrators at the school, including Gough, fellow saxophonist Dan Baker, trombonist Kevin Ogren and bassist Ron Mollinga, who has performed professionally and also taught one year of after-school band after the school’s music program was discontinued in the last decade.

After local school programs were shut down, Gough started the Pacific Winds band program for youth who wanted to continue in music. For several years he took the combined Pacific Winds and community bands to the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Port Alberni. At least a pair of current community band members joined due to their children’s affiliation with Pacific Winds. Richard Starr, another teacher at Port Hardy’s Eagle View Elementary, saw son Matt and daughter Shaylynn through several years in the youth group before agreeing to sign on as drummer in 2009 when the group’s previous drummer found work off the Island. Current North Island Gazette editor J.R. Rardon used to drive daughters Elena and Maia from Port McNeill to Port Hardy for weekly practice, and sit in the back of the room reading a book while the kids played. After a couple years of prodding, he and his wife Pam both joined after a more than 20-year break from playing since their own school days.

The North Island Community Band welcomes new members. For info, e-mail at

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